Writing in the dark

When I was a kid I was afraid of the back room of the basement. It was past the first three rooms with the naked rafters and electrical wires hanging down in loops, all the way to the French door, which opened up onto it: the cavernous back room, with its cold cement floor and the crannies and corners of the far end, the furthest end of the house. My parents’ room and my sister’s and my room were above it. Somehow that didn’t help. I imagined mice scurrying and middle-aged bad men in dank, dirty sweatshirts, their faces half-covered and pocket knives thrusting upwards from their hands. They’d be hiding behind the old furniture and the storage shelves—and those mice would be running from out behind them. A double whammy.

When I was a kid and I had to use the basement, I ran down and got what I needed and quick ran back up the stairs. I hated that place. Hated its darkness. But, on the other hand, I liked small, enclosed spaces, like closets. Closets were places I could totally explore, understand and feel safe in. The darkness of closets was not the same as the darkness of the basement.

So, I don’t quite understand the psychology behind this—though I intend to learn about it, soon—but I do know that when I’m in a small space, I feel safe.

My junior year of college I participated in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—and my roomie can attest to the fact that I’d write in the closet. Two or three hours a day, that was me, clacking away in a two-by-three foot space. I used a word processing system that wouldn’t let me use the backspace key, (you really can’t edit during NaNoWriMo, otherwise you’ll never get it done), and thanks to the closet, I emerged a novelist.

Though writing in the closet does help me, I’ve come to believe that it’s the darkness which really is key to helping me narrow my vision. It’s both literal and metaphorical: In a dark space with a single source of light, my eyes have to focus on that light. It’s only natural.

What I’ve also come to acknowledge is that during the daylight, almost everything is visible; my eyes are granted a smorgasbord of items to look at, study, and consider. I grow overwhelmed. I get distracted. What deserves my attention? Usually, I tend to rule out the writing.

In writing, I find that the more I turn off around me—be it lights, appliances, technology or (if I can), my thoughts—the better I work. As a creative, I need to discipline myself to focus, but I can help myself in that process, too. I can build good habits like turning off my phone, turning off the music, breathing deeply at the start, and throughout, and yes, finding a good place to write. . . in the dark.